Being Well

Pregnancy After Cancer: Your 10 Pressing Questions Answered

Many women can go on to have a healthy pregnancy after being treated for cancer. Work with your doctor during and after treatment to understand fertility and risks. Be sure to find out what fertility preservation options are available to you. Although they can be costly, it is critical to investigate these services.

Whether you’re a childhood cancer survivor or recently diagnosed, you may be wondering about the effects of cancer on your ability to get pregnant. The key is to communicate your goals and keep an open and honest with your oncologist and OB/GYN. The first goal of your family planning efforts is to ensure you can safely carry and deliver a healthy baby. If possible, find an obstetrician with experience with women who survived cancer. In the meantime, below are the top questions (with answers!) about fertility and pregnancy after cancer.

  1. How Long After Cancer Treatment Do You Need to Wait Before Trying to Get Pregnant?
    It’s best to wait at least 6 months, but some doctors recommend at least two years for women, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). This allows enough time for any eggs damaged from cancer treatments to clear from your body and to monitor for recurrence. There’s no recommendation for men, but two years after treatment would also allow for damaged sperm to clear out.
  2. Does Pregnancy Raise Your Risk of Cancer Coming Back?
    Recurrence is a common concern of breast cancer survivors because of hormone changes. A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found no major difference in the risk of recurrence for women who became pregnant after breast cancer.
  3. What If Your Cancer Comes Back During Pregnancy?
    If cancer recurs during pregnancy, your doctor will work with you to figure out a treatment plan that is safe for you and your fetus. You can continue with a healthy birth even if you have cancer.
  4. Will Your Child Be More Likely to Get Cancer?
    The American Cancer Society points out that only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are related to an inherited gene. If you don’t have a form of hereditary cancer, your child’s risk of developing cancer is not higher than anyone else’s. If you do have a hereditary syndrome, consider talking to your doctor about genetic counseling to better understand the risk.
  5. Will Your Child Be More Likely to Have Birth Defects?
    Rates of birth defects don’t appear any higher because of cancer treatment, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
  6. How Does Cancer Treatment Affect Your Fertility?
    The effects vary because of cancer and treatment type. For example, surgery to the cervix may make it harder for your body to support pregnancy. Some treatments can cause infertility in men or women. Talk to your doctor about this possibility early in your treatment plan.
  7. What Can You Do to Preserve Your Fertility?
    Men and women can talk to their doctors about fertility-preserving treatment options. Women have the option to freeze embryos or unfertilized eggs before treatment. According to ASCO, embryo freezing has the best success rate for pregnancy after cancer. Men can also freeze sperm before treatment for in vitro fertilization later.
  8. Will Previous Cancer Treatment Make Your Pregnancy Riskier?
    ASCO cautions that, depending on your treatment, you could have some additional risks during pregnancy. Certain surgeries or radiation treatment could increase the risk of miscarriage. Some chemotherapy drugs can weaken organs like your heart, which has to work harder during pregnancy. Talk with your doctor before getting pregnant and stay in close contact throughout to address any problems.
  9. Should Your Have Your Fertility Checked After Treatment?
    If your body seems normal, try getting pregnant for at least 6 months first. After that, consider talking to your doctor about seeing a fertility specialist.
  10. Can You Continue Taking Medications Like Tamoxifen During Pregnancy?
    Medications like tamoxifen or Gleevec aren’t safe during pregnancy. However, quitting these drugs can increase your risk of recurrence, according to ASCO. It’s best to wait until the treatment is complete and to always consult with your doctors.

You may have more specific questions as you plan to conceive. Reach out to your care team as soon as possible to discuss your options and for any potential referrals to OB/GYNs with experience working with cancer survivors.

Keeping up on your health is important part of pregnancy. Getting screened and going to routine check-ups helps monitor fertility and your overall health.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney